Counting the cost of relegation for Newcastle United.
When Mike Ashley looks back at his ownership of Newcastle, he will be able to claim proudly that he turned our fortunes around. For a club that had experienced 11 European campaigns in 13 years before he arrived, Newcastle United have at the very least flirted with relegation in 3 of his 7 Premier League seasons.
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Yes, we have been here before. We went down in 2009, we narrowly escaped in 2013. A known gambler, Ashley has gambled once again and despite generating a cash surplus of over £35m last year, those fortunes have not been translated to the football pitch.
Relegation can of course be argued to have its plus points. For supporters there are guaranteed to be 23 home games against 19 in the Premier League. All games look much more winnable. Supporters visiting St James’ Park bring a sense of awe and occasion. The football seems much more honest.
We also see a level of commitment from predominantly British players. Young players with talent who would be languishing in top tier reserve teams have a showcase. It’s also good to visit some of those mysterious places like Scunthorpe and Doncaster that remind us of our heritage.
In some of our own days in a lower division, it has been a chance to rebuild, talent emerging with the likes of Beardsley, Waddle and more recently, Carroll. For these plus points, there is a cost.
Some clubs can come from the Championship and build, the likes of Swansea, Southampton and even Stoke. For each of those, there are former domestic, even European champions, Leeds, Forest, Derby, Blackburn and 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth who have struggled to regain former glories.
What can we expect from Mike Ashley, the man who was reported as losing up to £300m in March 2008 with a poor punt on the Stock Market with HBOS. It will be noted that the sum is even more than he has wagered on Newcastle United.
As we have seen, club finances are important to the man. He would be missing out on the extra revenue from new deals. Gone will be the Premier League TV revenues, listed as £78.3m in the 2014 accounts. Instead this will be replaced with a parachute payment of £16m. Commercial revenues of £25.6m would be significantly hit, particularly with a brand that has been made toxic by Ashley.
Last time we were relegated, crowds also fell, at least initially. This time around, after waves of protest and a surge in apathy, they could be expected to fall more. Newcastle United might be considered fortunate to even emulate the £52.4m turnover achieved in that last relegation season.
This time around, there is the added disadvantage of meeting Financial Fair Play requirements. It will be remembered that costs for last season amounted to £105.5m, staff costs alone amounting to £78.3m, around 50% higher than likely revenues.
How will Ashley cope? We can look back at the evidence of the 2009-10 season for guidance. That time, the wage bill was the first thing to be cut. Although some relatively big earners were kept on, out went Owen, Viduka, Martins, Geremi, Cacapa, Bassong, Beye and Duff.
This time around, we can anticipate the same sort of scenario; Coloccini, Jonas, Tiote, Krul, Janmaat, Sissoko, Cisse and more. Not only would the wage bill be reduced but valuable transfer income would reduce the need for a further cash injection from Ashley.
We also have the managerial situation to be addressed. Last time around, there was the luxury of a coach who had worked under some greats of the English game, Chris Hughton, who was promoted from within.
This time, we have Carver, who has fallen dreadfully short, Dave Watson whose elevation to defensive coach for the first team reflects his mediocre record with the Academy, and Peter B, who shone with the Under 21s before the start of the year and has fallen off since.
Externally, there may be little hope for a Karanka or Jokanović. Perhaps the only people mad enough to want to come to St James’ Park will be former players like Lee Clark who has operated within financial constraints at Birmingham and Blackpool, taking the latter down. What about Ryan Taylor? Who knows, even Solano or Ketsbaia could be tempted?
They will face a shortage of experienced players in key position. This time we do not have the likes of Shola or Lovenkrands who could shine in the Championship. Darlow and Lascelles may provide experience of this level whilst it could be a development opportunity for players like Dummett and Haidara, even Heardman, Satka and Roberts from the under 21s, but overhaul will be required.
Who will pay for this? Not Ashley, he can cut costs as he did before. This time, we would expect that cost cutting to be far more ruthless, after all, he has the excuse of Financial Fair Play. After putting up the “Everyone Must Go” posters, there will be a threadbare squad in need of rebuilding, on a budget at that.
Some clubs have been ambitious enough to come back up, both Sunderland and West Brom are examples of clubs that have been yoyos. Does the owner have the same ambition as those clubs have demonstrated? Two top 10 finishes in 7 Premier League seasons suggests not.
No, the price is likely to be paid by supporters. Unable to command a price that would even cover the debt that Ashley has created from the club to himself, we can expect the sort of fire sale in the image of his cheap retail brands, once great names that are associated with poor quality. He retains the ability to punish the Geordie public for rising up against him over what a tribunal judged to be his lies.
For a population, particularly the young who grew up with Keegan, Sir Bobby and Shearer, the price is potentially immeasurable in a loss of heritage. The true cost of relegation is even greater than that HBOS loss that Ashley gambled on.
We could realistically be consigned to watching the likes of Forest, Cardiff, Leeds, Wigan Brentford, the Sheffield clubs and Milton Keynes for more than a generation.